A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
Abdul Kalam at the 12th Wharton India Economic
11th President of India
25 July 2002 – 25 July 2007
Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Bhairon Singh Shekhawat
Preceded by Kocheril Raman Narayanan
Succeeded by Pratibha Devisingh Patil
15 October 1931 (age 80)
Rameswaram, British India (present
day Tamil Nadu, India)
St. Joseph's College, Tiruchirappalli
Madras Institute of Technology
Professor, Author, scientist
Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam ( pronunciation (help·info); born 15 October 1931)
usually referred to as Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, is an Indian scientist and administrator who
served as the 11th President of India. Kalam was born and raised in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu,
studied physics at the St. Joseph's College, Tiruchirappalli, and aerospace engineering at the
Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), Chennai.
Before his term as President, he worked as an aerospace engineer with Defence Research and
Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Kalam
is popularly known as the Missile Man of India for his work on the development of ballistic
missile and launch vehicle technology. He played a pivotal organizational, technical and
political role in India's Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998, the first since the original nuclear test by
India in 1974. Some scientific experts have however called Kalam a man with no authority over
nuclear physics but who just carried on the works of Homi J. Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai.
Kalam was elected the President of India in 2002, defeating Lakshmi Sahgal and was supported
by both the Indian National Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the major political parties
of India. He is currently a visiting professor at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and
Indian Institute of Management Indore, Chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space Science and
Technology Thiruvananthapuram, a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Anna University
(Chennai), JSS University (Mysore) and an adjunct/visiting faculty at many other academic and
research institutions across India.
Kalam advocated plans to develop India into a developed nation by 2020 in his book India 2020.
Books authored by him have received considerable demands in South Korea for the translated
versions. He has received several prestigious awards, including the Bharat Ratna, India's
highest civilian honour. Kalam is known for his motivational speeches and interaction with the
student community in India. He launched his mission for the youth of the nation in 2011 called
the What Can I Give Movement with a central theme to defeat corruption in India. Kalam was
also criticized for inaction as a president on the pending mercy plea petitions, that delayed
prosecution of the convicts.
Early life and education
Kalam was born on 15 October 1931 to Jainulabdeen, a boat owner and Ashiamma, a housewife,
at Rameswaram, located in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. He came from a poor
background and started working at an early age to supplement his family's income. He was
brought up in a multi-religious environment but did follow a religious routine. After
completing school, Kalam distributed newspapers in order to financially contribute to his father's
income. In his school years, he had average grades, but was described as a bright and
hardworking student who had a strong desire to learn and spend hours on his studies, especially
"I inherited honesty and self-discipline from my father; from my mother, I inherited faith in
goodness and deep kindness as did my three brothers and sisters."
—A quote from Kalam's autobiography
After completing his school education at the Rameswaram Elementary School, Kalam went on to
attend Saint Joseph's College, Tiruchirappalli where he graduated in physics in 1954. Towards
the end of the course, he was not enthusiastic about the subject and would later regret the four
years he studied it. He then moved to Madras in 1955 to study aerospace engineering,
at the MIT Madras, India, where he obtained his masters degree. Kalam has a several
honorary doctorates, but his formal education stopped at the master degree from MIT,
While Kalam was working on a senior class project, the Dean was dissatisfied with the lack of
progress and threatened revoking his scholarship unless the project was finished within the next
two days. He worked tirelessly on his project and met the deadline, impressing the Dean who
later said, "I [Dean] was putting you [Kalam] under stress and asking you to meet a difficult
Career as scientist
This was my first stage, in which I learnt leadership from three great teachers—Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Prof.
Satish Dhawan and Dr. Brahm Prakash. This was the time of learning and acquisition of knowledge for me.
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam
After graduating from Madras Institute of Technology (MIT – Chennai) in 1960, Kalam joined
Aeronautical Development Establishment of Defense Research and Development Organization
(DRDO) as a chief scientist. Kalam started his career by designing a small helicopter for the
Indian Army, but remained unconvinced with the choice of his job at DRDO. Kalam was also
part of the INCOSPAR committee working under Vikram Sarabhai, the renowned space
scientist. In 1969, Kalam was transferred to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)
where he was the project director of India's first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III)
which successfully deployed the Rohini satellite in near earth orbit in July 1980. Joining ISRO
was one of Kalam's biggest achievements in life and he is said to have found himself when he
started to work on the SLV project. Kalam first started work on an expandable rocket project
independently at DRDO in 1965. In 1969, Kalam received the government's approval and
expanded the program to include more engineers.
Kalam addresses engineering students at IIT Guwahati
In 1963–64, he visited Nasa's Langley Research Center in Hampton Virginia, Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and Wallops Flight Facility situated at Eastern Shore of
Virginia. During the period between the 1970s and 1990s, Kalam made an effort to develop
the Polar SLV and SLV-III projects, both of which proved to be success.
Kalam was invited by Raja Ramanna to witness the country's first nuclear test Smiling Buddha
as the representative of TBRL, even though he had not participated in the development, test site
preparation and weapon designing. In the 1970s, a landmark was achieved by ISRO when the
locally built Rohini-1 was launched into space, using the SLV rocket. In the 1970s, Kalam
also directed two projects, namely, Project Devil and Project Valiant , which sought to develop
ballistic missiles from the technology of the successful SLV programme. Despite the
disapproval of Union Cabinet, Premier Indira Gandhi allotted secret funds for these aerospace
projects through her discretionary powers under Kalam's directorship. Kalam played an
integral role convincing the Union Cabinet to conceal the true nature of these classified
aerospace projects. His research and educational leadership brought him great laurels and
prestige in 1980s, which prompted the government to initiate an advanced missile program under
his directorship. Kalam and Dr. V. S. Arunachalam, metallurgist and scientific adviser to the
Defense Minister, worked on the suggestion by the then Defense Minister, R. Venkataraman on a
proposal for simulataneous development of a quiver of missiles instead of taking planned
missiles one by one. R Venkatraman was instrumental in getting the cabinet approval for
allocating 388 crore rupees for the mission, named Integrated Guided Missile Development
Program (I.G.M.D.P) and appointed Kalam as the Chief Executive. Kalam played a major part
in developing many missiles under the mission including Agni, an intermediate range ballistic
missile and Prithvi, the tactical surface-to-surface missile, although the projects have been
criticised for mismanagement and cost and time overruns. He was the Chief Scientific
Adviser to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of Defence Research and Development
Organisation from July 1992 to December 1999. The Pokhran-II nuclear tests were conducted
during this period where he played an intensive political and technological role. Kalam served as
the Chief Project Coordinator, along with R. Chidambaram during the testing phase. Photos
and snapshots of him taken by the media elevated Kalam as the country's top nuclear scientist.
In 1998, along with cardiologist Dr.Soma Raju, Kalam developed a low cost Coronary stent. It
was named as "Kalam-Raju Stent" honouring them. In 2012, the duo, designed a rugged
tablet PC for health care in rural areas, which was named as "Kalam-Raju Tablet".
Abdul Kalam served as the 11th President of India, succeeding K. R. Narayanan. He won the
2002 presidential election with an electoral vote of 922,884, surpassing 107,366 votes won by
Lakshmi Sahgal. He served from 25 July 2002 to 25 July 2007.
On 10 June 2002, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which was in power at the time,
expressed to the leader of opposition, Indian National Congress president Sonia Gandhi that they
would propose Kalam for the post of President. The Samajwadi Party and the Nationalist
Congress Party backed his candidacy. After the Samajwadi Party announced its support for
him, President K. R. Narayanan chose not to seek a second term in office and hence left the field
clear for Kalam to become the 11th President of India.
I am really overwhelmed. Everywhere both in Internet and in other media, I have been asked for
a message. I was thinking what message I can give to the people of the country at this juncture.
—Kalam responding to the announcement of his candidature by Prime Minister Atal Bihari
On 18 June, Kalam filed his nomination papers in the Parliament of India, accompanied by
Vajpayee and his senior Cabinet colleagues.
Kalam along with Vladimir Putin and Manmohan Singh during his presidency
The polling for the presidential election began on 15 July 2002 in the Parliament and the state
assemblies with media claiming that the election was a one-sided affair and Kalam's victory was
a foregone conclusion. The counting was held on 18 July. Kalam won the presidential election
in a highly one-sided contest. He became the 11th president of the Republic of India. He
moved into the Rashtrapati Bhavan after he was sworn in on 25 July. Kalam was the third
President of India to have been honoured with a Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour,
before becoming the President. Dr. Sarvapali Radhakrishnan (1954) and Dr. Zakir Hussain
(1963) were the earlier recipients of Bharat Ratna who later became the President of India. He
was also the first scientist and the first bachelor to occupy Rashtrapati Bhawan.
During his term as President, he was affectionately known as the People's President. In
his words, signing the Office of Profit Bill was the toughest decision he had taken during his
Kalam is criticized for inaction as a President in deciding the fate of 20 out of the 21 mercy
petitions. Article 72 of the Constitution of India empowers the President of India to grant
pardon, suspend and remit death sentences and commute the death sentence of convicts on death
row. Kalam acted on only one mercy plea in his 5 year tenure as a President, rejecting the
plea of rapist Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was hanged thereafter. The most important of the 20
pleas is thought to be that of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri terrorist who was convicted of conspiracy
in the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament and was sentenced to death by the
Supreme Court of India in 2004. While the sentence was scheduled to be carried out on 20
October 2006, the pending action on the mercy plea resulted in him continuing in the death
At the end of his term, on 20 June 2007, Kalam expressed his willingness to consider a second
term in office provided there was certainty about his victory in the 2007 presidential election.
However, two days later, he decided not to contest the Presidential election again stating that he
wanted to avoid involving Rashtrapati Bhavan from any political processes. He did not have
the support of the Left parties, Shiv Sena and UPA constituents to receive a renewed
Nearing the term expiry of the 12th President Pratibha Patil, whose tenure ends on 24 July 2012,
media reports in April claimed that Kalam was likely to be nominated for his second
term. After the reports, social networking sites were abuzz with activities extending their
support for his candidature. BJP potentially backed his nomination, saying that the party
will lend their support if Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and Indian National Congress
proposes his name for the 2012 presidential election. Just a month ahead of the election,
Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata Banerjee also expressed their support to Kalam and revealed
that they both would suggest his name. Days after expressing support, Mulayam Singh Yadav
backed out, leaving Mamata Banerjee as a solitary supporter. On 18 June 2012, Kalam refused
to contest 2012 presidential poll after much speculations.
Many, many citizens have also expressed the same wish. It only reflects their love and affection
for me and the aspiration of the people. I am really overwhelmed by this support. This being
their wish, I respect it. I want to thank them for the trust they have in me."
—Kalam's message to public upon denying to contest Presidential poll 2012.
Kalam, is a life-long bachelor, though it is not known about his romantic life. Kalam is deeply
connected to his family, mother and brothers, who live in Rameswaram, TamilNadu.
Criticisms and controversies
The controversy that surrounds Kalam's role as a nuclear scientist, is the lack of reliable and
factual reporting of the yield of Pokhran-II tests. The director of the site test, K. Santhanam,
publicly admitted that the thermonuclear bomb was a "fizzle" test, criticising Kalam for issuing
the wrong report. However, Kalam dismissed the claims and R. Chidambaram, a key associate
of Pokhran-II, also described these claims as incorrect.
In spite of his leading role in the development of Indian nuclear programme, Kalam has received
criticism from many of his peers who claimed that he had "no authority" over nuclear science.
Homi Sethna, a chemical engineer criticised Kalam claiming that Kalam had no background in
publishing articles in nuclear science, even in nuclear physics. Sethna maintained that Kalam
received his masters degree in aerospace engineering, which is a completely different discipline
from nuclear engineering, and what various universities awarded him for his achievements had
nothing to do with nuclear physics. Sethna, in his last interview, maintained that in the 1950s,
Kalam had failed advanced physics courses during his college life and quoted "What does he
know (about [nuclear] physics)....?", on the national television. Homi Sethna also accused Kalam
of using his presidency to gain a national stature of a nuclear scientist.
Others felt that Kalam had never worked in any of the Indian nuclear power plants and had no
role in developing the nuclear weapon which was completed under Raja Ramanna. Kalam
worked as an aerospace engineer in a SLV project in the 1970s and from the 1980s onwards, as a
project director before he moved to Defence Research and Development Organisation, Sethna
concluded. The prestigious IISc,Bangalore rejected Kalam's application as they felt that he
lacked scientific credentials.
In 2008, Indian media questioned his claims about his personal contributions to missile
inventions while working in a classified missile programme. Kalam had taken credit of
inventing the Agni, Prithvi and Aakash missile system. All of these were developed,
researched and designed by other scientists whereas Kalam was involved in getting the funds and
other logistic tasks. As a director of DRDO, a lot of credit had gone to Kalam. R. N. Agarwal,
former director, Advanced System Laboratory and former Program Director of Agni missile was
considered to be the real architect behind the successful design of Agni Missile. In his own
biography, Kalam credited the development of Agni missile to Dr Ram Narayan Agarwal, an
alumnus of MIT. For the Prithvi missile project, he named Col VJ Sundaram as the brain behind
this project and for the Trishul missile, he gave credit to Commander SR Mohan. In 2006,
senior media correspondent Praful Bidwai, in the The Daily Star, wrote that two aerospace
projects, Project Valiant and Project Devil, which were authorised by former Premier Indira
Gandhi under the directorship of Abdul Kalam, resulted in "total failure". In the 1980s, these
projects were ultimately cancelled by the government under the pressure of the Indian Army.
Kalam was also criticised by civil groups over his stand on the Koodankulam Nuclear Power
Plant, where he supported setting up of the nuclear power plant and never spoke with the local
people. The protesters were hostile to his visit as they perceived to him to be a pro-nuclear
scientist and were unimpressed by the assurance provided by him on the safety features of the
Frisking by American security authorities
Abdul Kalam was frisked at the JFK Airport in New York, while boarding a plane on 29
September 2011. He was subjected to "private screening" as he does not come under the category
of dignitaries exempt from security screening procedures under American guidelines. He was
frisked again after boarding the Air India aircraft with the US security officials asking for his
jacket and shoes, claiming that these items were not checked according to the prescribed
procedures during the "private screening", despite protests from the airline crew confirming him
as India's president. The incident was not reported until 13 November 2011. India
threatened retaliatory action as there was a "general sense of outrage" around the country. The
Indian Ministry of External Affairs protested over this incident and a statement by the ministry
said that the US Government had written a letter to Kalam, expressing its deep regret for the
Kalam was previously frisked by the ground staff of the Continental Airlines at the Indira
Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi in July 2009 and was treated like an ordinary
passenger, despite him being on the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security's list of people exempted
from security screening in India.
Future India: 2020
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam delivering speech
In his book India 2020, Kalam strongly advocates an action plan to develop India into a
knowledge superpower and a developed nation by the year 2020. He regards his work on India's
nuclear weapons program as a way to assert India's place as a future superpower.
It was reported that, there was a considerable demand in South Korea for translated versions of
books authored by him.
Kalam continues to take an active interest in other developments in the field of science and
technology. He has proposed a research program for developing bio-implants. He is a supporter
of Open Source over proprietary solutions and believes that the use of free software on a large
scale will bring the benefits of information technology to more people.
Kalam set a target of interacting with 100,000 students during the two years after his resignation
from the post of scientific adviser in 1999. In his own words, "I feel comfortable in the
company of young people, particularly high school students. Henceforth, I intend to share with
them experiences, helping them to ignite their imagination and preparing them to work for a
developed India for which the road map is already available." He continued to interact with
students during his term as a President and also during his post-presidency period as a visiting
professor at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad and Indian Institute of Management
Indore, Chancellor of Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology
Thiruvananthapuram, a professor of Aerospace Engineering at Anna University (Chennai),
JSS University (Mysore), and an adjunct/visiting faculty at many other academic and research
institutions across India.
In May 2011, Kalam launched his mission for the youth of the nation called the What Can I Give
Movement with a central theme to defeat corruption. He also has interests in writing Tamil
poetry and in playing veenai, a South Indian string instrument.
He was nominated for the MTV Youth Icon of the Year award in 2003 and in 2006. In
the 2011 Hindi film I Am Kalam, Kalam is portrayed as an extremely positive influence to a poor
but bright Rajasthani boy named Chhotu, who renames himself Kalam in honour of his idol.
Awards and honours
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam's 79th birthday was recognised as World Students' Day by United
Nations. He has also received honorary doctorates from 40 universities. The
Government of India has honoured him with the Padma Bhushan in 1981 and the Padma
Vibhushan in 1990 for his work with ISRO and DRDO and his role as a scientific advisor to the
Government. In 1997, Kalam received India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, for
his immense and valuable contribution to the scientific research and modernisation of defence
technology in India.
Year of award or
Name of award or honour
IEEE Honorary Membership
Doctor of Engineering
International von Kármán Wings
Doctor of Engineering (Honoris
King Charles II Medal
Honorary Doctorate of Science
Veer Savarkar Award
Indira Gandhi Award for National
University of Waterloo
ASME Foundation, USA
California Institute of Technology,
Nanyang Technological University,
Royal Society, U.K
University of Wolverhampton, U.K
Alwars Research Centre, Chennai
Government of India
Government of India
Government of India
Government of India
Government of India